Newly diagnosed? Or, trying to get a better handle on an old diagnosis? Looking for ways to alleviate ADHD symptoms beyond medication? Mindfulness might be the answer you’re looking for to help reduce ADHD symptoms.
What is mindfulness?
Let’s start first with the basics… what does mindfulness even mean?
Mindfulness is paying attention to right now and noticing the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that emerge this moment. Mindfulness can happen anytime, anywhere. It is not necessary to empty your brain (and, let’s face it – who can actually do that?). Being mindful means picking an anchor for your attention and trying to keep your attention on that anchor. These “anchors” don’t have to be sophisticated. You can try things like:
Your hands or feet
The task at hand, such as doing the dishes
When your attention starts to drift away, intentionally draw your focus back to your anchor. The intentionality of bringing your attention back to your anchor is what’s important. Instead of pushing your thoughts away, pull your attention back to where it intended to be. Continue to practice this and you’ll strengthen your attention muscle. As you build your attention muscle, you may want to attempt meditation. Meditations are specific exercises you can do to increase your mindfulness. Consider meditation like going to the gym to work out your attention muscle.
Why is mindfulness important for ADHD?
Research studies are consistently showing that practicing mindfulness can help reduce the negative effects of ADHD. These studies are fairly stuffy to read, but they make really amazing assertions like:
"Mindfulness is part of "the therapeutic arsenal of evidence-based interventions for adult ADHD."
Wow, that is a powerful (and true!) statement. You can find more in-depth info about the research in two of my articles (The Mindfulness Craze: It All Started With One Little Study and Acting with Awareness for ADHD), but the bottom line is that mindfulness helps us to pay attention better, resist distractions, be less impulsive, remember what we are doing in the moment, and regulate our own emotions.
(Side note - I believe in the power of mindfulness so much that I created a whole website about it specifically for people with ADHD. MindfullyADD is a membership website that features attention training tools specifically designed for people with ADHD. You can learn more about it at the bottom of this article.)
Ten Mindfulness Practice Tips for People with ADHD
If any of this sounds like it would be helpful, I want to tell you that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some tips to get started with your own ADHD-informed mindfulness practice:
Start with short sessions – as short as one minute. Studies have shown that the benefits of mindfulness begin the moment you practice mindfulness, and lasting benefits can come from consistently doing short mindfulness exercises. Don’t start with a 45-minute silent meditation. They aren’t for everyone anyway.
Find an anchor that feels right to you – some people use their breathing, their hands/feet or certain sounds/music. Trying a variety of guided practices will help you to discover your favorite anchors.
If you like, you can start with guided practices specifically designed for people with ADHD (ADHD-friendly, guided practices can be found at www.mindfullyadd.com).
Don’t expect to have an empty mind and don’t get mad at yourself when your mind wanders – just pull your attention back to your anchor when it starts to drift.
Try moving mindfulness practices (walking practice is a well known mindfulness practice).
Don’t pay attention to “shoulds” – do what works for you. There is no “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, in mindfulness practice.
Create a habit. Even if you can’t do it every day, consistent practice helps build your mindfulness muscle.
If you get off-track and need to restart, find new resources to keep your interest and curiosity.
Use cues rather than schedules to remind you to practice. Think of “when I/then I” cues. For example, “When I am at a stoplight, I practice mindfulness." Individualize it: find a regular trigger and tie your practice to that. This way it becomes automatic rather than something scheduled that must be remembered.
Find a mindfulness buddy and keep each other on track.
Bonus tip: Keep your mindfulness practice top of mind by finding ways to make it fun: talk about it with other people, make small changes to your practice when you get bored (change where or when you do it, try a new practice resource, find fun props, etc.), keep a log of your practices.
If you think mindfulness might be the answer you are looking for to help alleviate your ADHD symptoms, check out these great resources:
Mindfulness for ADHD Website
MindfullyADD is a website featuring mindfulness practices for ADHD – simple, brief and approachable exercises based on proven research.
Mindful Solutions for Adults with ADD/ADHD, MP3 Album, By Lidia Zylowska
MindfullyADD has several free, guided practices you can try:
Natural Relief for Adult ADHD, by Stephanie Sarkis
Mindfulness and Other Natural Treatments for ADHD Symptoms, ADDitude Magazine eBook
Mindful Parenting for ADHD, by Mark Bertin
The Mindfulness Prescription for Adult ADHD, by Lidia Zylowska
Myths about Mindfulness for ADHD, eBook, by Casey Dixon
(Free download when you sign up on the MindfullyADD homepage)
Articles on the Web
ADHD & Mindfulness: An Interview with Lidia Zylowska MD, Psychology Today, by Stephanie Sarkis.
Benefits of Mindfulness for ADHD, Downloadable Infographic, by Casey Dixon
Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits, The New York Times, By Daniel Goleman.
Mindful Awareness: Treating ADHD with Meditation, Attitude Magazine, by Carl Sherman.
Mindful Parenting for ADHD, Mindful, by Mark Bertin.
Mindfulness Skills Useful in Addressing ADHD, Psych Central, By Lynda McCullough.
Recent Research on Mindfulness and ADHD, ADDA Coaches Corner, By Liz Ahmann.
The ADHD Mindfulness Craze: It all Started with One Little Study, by Casey Dixon
ADHD Mindfulness in a Minute, Attention Talk Radio with Casey Dixon
Exercise the Attention Muscle with Mindfulness, ADHD reWired with Casey Dixon
Improve Your Mental Clarity: Mindfulness for Adults with ADHD, ADDitude ADHD Experts, with Mark Bertin
Mindfulness and ADHD without the Fluff, Attention Talk Radio with Mark Bertin
Mindfulness for Adults Living with ADHD: A beginner's guide to clarity and mindful living, ADDitude Webinar Replay, with Mark Bertin
Practicing Mindfulness for your ADHD, Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast with Casey Dixon
Select research articles
Bueno, V. F., Kozasa, E. H., da Silva, M. A., Alves, T., Maria, N., …. (n.d.). Mindfulness Meditation Improves Mood, Quality of Life, and Attention in Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. BioMed Research International. Retrieved from http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/962857/abs/
Hepark, S., Janssen, L., Vries, A. de, Schoenberg, P. L. A., Donders, R., Kan, C. C., & Speckens, A. E. M. (2015). The Efficacy of Adapted MBCT on Core Symptoms and Executive Functioning in Adults With ADHD A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Attention Disorders, 1087054715613587. http://doi.org/10.1177/1087054715613587
Househam, A. M., & Solanto, M. V. (2016). Mindfulness as an Intervention for ADHD. The ADHD Report, 24(2), 1–9,13. http://doi.org/10.1521/adhd.2016.24.2.1
Mitchell, J. T., McIntyre, E. M., English, J. S., Dennis, M. F., Beckham, J. C., & Kollins, S. H. (2013). A Pilot Trial of Mindfulness Meditation Training for ADHD in Adulthood: Impact on Core Symptoms, Executive Functioning, and Emotion Dysregulation. Journal of Attention Disorders, 1087054713513328. http://doi.org/10.1177/1087054713513328
Mitchell, J. T., Zylowska, L., & Kollins, S. H. (n.d.). Mindfulness Meditation Training for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adulthood: Current Empirical Support, Treatment Overview, and Future Directions. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cbpra.2014.10.002
Modesto-Lowe, V., Farahmand, P., Chaplin, M., & Sarro, L. (2015). Does mindfulness meditation improve attention in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? World Journal of Psychiatry, 5(4), 397–403. http://doi.org/10.5498/wjp.v5.i4.397
Smalley, S. L., Loo, S. K., Hale, T. S., Shrestha, A., McGough, J., Flook, L., & Reise, S. (2009). Mindfulness and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 65(10), 1087–1098. http://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.20618
Weijer-Bergsma, E. van de, Formsma, A. R., Bruin, E. I. de, & Bögels, S. M. (2011). The Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training on Behavioral Problems and Attentional Functioning in Adolescents with ADHD. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21(5), 775–787. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-011-9531-7
Zylowska, L., Ackerman, D. L., Yang, M. H., Futrell, J. L., Horton, N. L., Hale, T. S., … Smalley, S. L. (2008). Mindfulness Meditation Training in Adults and Adolescents With ADHD A Feasibility Study. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11(6), 737–746. http://doi.org/10.1177/1087054707308502
Zylowska, L., Smalley, S. L., & Schwartz, J. M. (2009). Mindful Awareness and ADHD. In F. Didonna (Ed.), Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness (pp. 319–338). Springer New York. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-09593-6_18